Home Richmond back in the FCS postseason for the first time since 2016

Richmond back in the FCS postseason for the first time since 2016

Scott Ratcliffe

richmond spiders football After registering a convincing win last week in the opening round of the FCS Playoffs, Richmond travels 2,782 miles out West, looking for an upset over unbeaten, No. 2 seed Sacramento State Saturday afternoon at 5 (ESPN+).

Richmond (9-3) is back in the postseason for the first time since 2016, and for the first time under sixth-year coach Russ Huesman.

“It’s fun,” said the coach earlier this week. “I feel great for some of these guys that have been in the program for a while, [redshirt-senior linebacker] Phil O’Connor, [redshirt-senior running back] Aaron Dykes, those guys that have been here for a while and haven’t had the opportunity and now getting this opportunity.”

The Spiders are winners of six of their last seven games after blanking Davidson, 41-0, last week at Robins Stadium, as quarterback Reece Udinski set the FCS postseason single-game, completion- percentage mark of 90.3 percent, connecting on 28 of his 31 attempts.

Udinski, who went 10-for-15 on third-down conversions, amassed 246 yards through the air and a pair of touchdowns — one to former VMI teammate Jakob Herres, one to Jerry Garcia Jr. — as the Spiders also got solid production (215 yards) via the ground game.

Dykes got things started with a 12-yard trot to the end zone for the game’s first touchdown, and then fellow senior Milan Howard capped the victory with his first multi-TD performance, scoring twice in the second half.

On the season, Udinski — who played four years in Lexington for the Keydets, then transferred to Maryland prior to the 2021-22 season before finishing his career in Richmond — has thrown for 3,396 yards (4th in FCS) and 26 touchdowns (tied for 9th), while tossing only 4 interceptions.

He and Herres reunited with former VMI offensive coordinator Billy Cosh, who now holds the same position with the Spiders. Cosh was brought in to give the offense a spark, and having two of his main former weapons from VMI has been a huge asset.

Richmond led the CAA in passing offense with 288.1 yards per contest, as both Herres (900 yards, 6 touchdowns) and another graduate wideout, Leroy Henley (748 yards, 8 touchdowns), rank in the top 50 in FCS receiving yards.

Defensively, redshirt-junior linebacker Tristan Wheeler is one of the top tacklers in the FCS ranks. He’s racked up a total of 105 stops on the season for an average of 9.5 a game, which is good for 23rd in the country. Wheeler also has 11 tackles for loss, a pair of sacks, 2 interceptions, 6 quarterback hurries and 3 pass breakups.

He leads a Spiders defense that ranked first in the conference in rushing defense (120.4 yards per game), second in scoring defense (18.6 points allowed) and total defense (321.8 yards per game), and fifth in passing defense (201.4 yards per game).

Richmond, which fell in the season opener at Scott Stadium against Virginia, 34-17, finished at No. 14 in the final FCS regular-season coaches poll.

The Spiders are looking to go on a run and ultimately add to their trophy case, after winning an FCS title under current William & Mary (and former UVA) head coach Mike London in 2008. They also made it to the semifinals in 2007, ‘15 and ‘16.

The undefeated Hornets (11-0), meanwhile, rely heavily on sophomore Cameron Skattebo, who ranks 9th among FCS running backs with 1,251 yards on the season (113.7 per game). Sacramento St. puts up 480.6 yards on average and ranked second in the Big Sky Conference with 41.5 points per game, as well as second in rushing offense with 250.6 yards per game.

“I think they’re solid all the way across the board, all three phases,” Huesman said of the Hornets, “and they’re well-coached.”

Sacramento St. uses a combination of seniors Jake Dunniway and Middle Tennessee transfer Asher O’Hara under center, with Dunniway (1,867 passing yards and 16 touchdowns) operating as a traditional passer and O’Hara (642 passing yards and 8 touchdowns; 798 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns) providing more of a dual-threat approach.

“The rotating-quarterback thing, obviously we haven’t seen that,” Huesman said, “and we’ve just got to kind of have a couple of gameplans ready for whatever quarterback’s in the game. They both are playing well, they’re both moving the team, and obviously [the Hornets] like them both, so they’re playing them both.

“The one thing you can see is when it gets to third-down situations — not third-and-1 or 2, definite potential passing situations — they bring in No. 12 [Dunniway].”

This isn’t the first time the Hornets have been in this spot, receiving a first-round bye. Sacramento St. finished atop the Big Sky standings for the third year in a row, and is hoping to avoid a third-straight second-round playoff exit at home.

There’s wet weather in the forecast in Northern California for Saturday evening, but Coach Huesman says his team will be prepared for sloppy conditions in the event of rain.

Should Richmond pull off the road upset, the Spiders would then go up against the winner between No. 7 seed Incarnate Word (10-1) and Furman (10-2) in next Saturday’s quarterfinal round.

“These guys, they believe in themselves,” said Huesman of his players. “They believe they had a good football team, they believed we could be a playoff team and they played like it this year.”

Scott Ratcliffe

Scott Ratcliffe

Scott Ratcliffe has worked as a freelance writer for several publications over the past decade-plus, with a concentration on local and college sports. He is also a writer and editor for his father’s website, JerryRatcliffe.com, dedicated to the coverage of University of Virginia athletics.

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